by Jim Bennett
When I was spending more time in Detroit, cultivating my automotive roots, Chrysler's stunning visual and technological Tour De Force Hybrid Intrepid ESX was introduced to journalists in January 1996. This ultra sleek vehicle looked as if it were an advanced Lamborghini Diablo. It represented the most extreme and satisfying example of the innovative cab forward design. Under its "skin" and within the spacious interior were many technological marvels.
This "next century" sports sedan is powered by a series hybrid drive propulsion system. A 1.8 liter three cylinder, turbocharged diesel engine provides mechanical energy that is transferred to a special Kohler alternator that generates electrical energy. A computer controls this electrical energy that is fed into a 300 volt storage battery and two Zytek electric wheel motors. This concept of a rolling, diesel powered generator supply electricity to and electric propulsion motor has been used for years in train locomotives.
Disc brakes are used in each wheel, which can regenerate electricity back to recharge the vehicle battery when the brakes are applied. This system creates about 80 horsepower and 55 ft. lbs. of torque, without a transmission. Since the vehicle weighs about 2900 pounds, Chrysler engineers may be able to develop a fuel economy of about 55 miles per gallon in the future. With a performance of 0 to 60 in about 9 seconds, this highly innovative design sounds quite practical for modern traffic.
This year, at the Los Angeles Spring Internet World 1999 conference, I had a chance to drive and take a closer look at this remarkable vehicle. It's unconventional design and chili pepper red paint looked as fresh today, as it did three years ago.
Entry into the low vehicle was quite easy and the spacious interior was accented by carefully placed controls and gauges. Ergonomically, everything seemed to fall into place including ample head and leg room for my extra tall frame (I'm 6 foot 5 inches tall). Forward and side vision were also very good and rear views were handled by tiny video cameras. Interior space was enormous and impressive. Looking out through the expansive, exotically raked windshield and graceful greenhouse windows made me feel I was in a Le Mans racer. I ask myself, "How can anything this exciting be an economy vehicle capable achieving 50 to 80 mpg?"
Now, the moment of truth. Pressing the accelerator pedal resulted in a smooth, powerful, quick, vibration-free start that was remarkable. The muted, but high pitched, electrical sound was very pleasant to this enthusiast. The vehicle outperformed my highest expectations, having driven numerous electric vehicles in the past. The electrical power steering was very fast, but a bit too light for my tastes. I am told this could be easily adjusted through software.
In this is like no computer I've ever driven! Braking was controlled and responsive over the test course. Handling and cornering ability could not tested in this short course, but appears adequate with only 2900 pounds to deal with in a long wheelbase vehicle.
Chrysler and the Intrepid ESX prove there is a great potential for a high-performance and fun to drive, radical hybrid vehicles. By using an advanced, lightweight body structure, a hybrid power plant and a new level of styling, this vehicle achieved the powerful combination of performance, practicality and dependability. It is great to see examples of designs where imagination, creativity and determination are applied in liberal amounts.
A great job. I can't wait to see what future holds from the innovative design team at Chrysler.
Dated: April 1999